US president Donald Trump has defended his nominee for the supreme court as "one of the finest people I have ever known", as he criticised Democrats for not raising information they had about Brett Kavanaugh sooner.
Following a day of turmoil in Washington after a woman who accused Mr Kavanaugh of sexual assault came forward, Mr Trump said that Mr Kavanaugh was “an outstanding intellect, an outstanding judge – respected by everybody”.
“I wish the Democrats could have done this a lot sooner, because they had this information for many months. And they shouldn’t have waited till literally the last days,” he said.
Allegations of sexual impropriety against Mr Kavanaugh first surfaced last week when Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein said she was referring information relating to the judge to federal investigators.
While it quickly emerged that the information related to an alleged sexual impropriety involving Mr Kavanaugh, on Sunday Christine Blasey Ford, an academic in California, chose to break her silence. She told the Washington Post that Mr Kavanaugh, when a high school student in Washington DC, pinned her to a bed, groped her and covered her mouth to stop her from screaming.
He was 17 and she was 15 at the time of the alleged incident.
Mr Kavanaugh, who was spotted entering the White House on Monday morning, issued a fresh statement on Monday, protesting his innocence.
“This is a completely false allegation. I have never done anything like what the accuser describes – to her or to anyone. Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” he said in the statement issued by the White House.
"I am willing to talk to the Senate judiciary committee in any way the committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity."
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell criticised Ms Feinstein for raising the issue at the “11th hour” despite knowing about the allegations for at least six weeks.
But, in a sign of the seriousness with which Republicans are viewing the issue, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway said on Monday that Mr Kavanaugh's accuser "should be heard".
"This woman should not be insulted and she should not be ignored," Ms Conway said at the White House. "I've spoken with the president, I've spoken with Senator Graham and others. This woman will be heard."
Mr Trump also struck a more considered note when questioned about the issue by reporters in the Oval Office on Monday, suggesting that the Senate “should hear everybody out”.
“[Mr Kavanaugh] is somebody very special. At the same time, we want to go through a process,” he said.
The controversy has thrown Mr Kavanaugh’s nomination process into disarray.
The Senate judiciary committee was due to vote on his nomination on Thursday, but all 10 Democratic members called for the hearing to be postponed.
While Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the judiciary committee, indicated on Monday morning that the committee would initiate follow-up calls with both Mr Kavanaugh and his accuser, he faced calls for both Mr Kavanaugh and Ms Ford to testify.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine – one of the key figures on the committee, who, along with Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, faces pressure to reject the Republican nominee – said on Monday that she wanted both Mr Kavanaugh and his accuser to testify under oath.
Senator Orrin Hatch said that he had spoken to Mr Kavanaugh and said that the 53-year-old judge had told him that Ms Ford could be mixing him up with someone else who attended the party in question.
Ms Ford said Mr Kavanaugh had assaulted her in a bedroom at a party, but that his friend Mark Judge had jumped on top of both of them, allowing her to escape.